No peace in Myanmar 1 year after military coup

0

By GRANT PECK

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s military takeover a year ago that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi not only unexpectedly halted the country’s fledgling return to democracy: it also brought a surprising level of popular resistance, which turned into a low-level, but persistent, insurgency.

Chief General Min Aung Hlaing, commander of Myanmar’s military – known as the Tatmadaw – seized power on the morning of February 1, 2021, arresting Suu Kyi and key members of her government and ruling party, the National League for Democracy, which won a landslide victory in the November 2020 elections.

The military’s use of lethal force to retain power has escalated the conflict with its civilian opponents to the point that some experts describe the country as being in a state of civil war.

The costs have been high, with some 1,500 people killed by security forces, nearly 8,800 detained, an unknown number tortured and missing, and more than 300,000 displaced as the army razes villages to root out resistance.

Other consequences are also important. Civil disobedience has hampered transportation, banking and government agencies, slowing an economy already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. The public health system has collapsed, leaving the fight against COVID-19 abandoned for months. Higher education has come to a standstill as professors and students sympathizing with the revolt boycott the school or are arrested.

The army-installed government did not at all anticipate the level of resistance that was emerging, Thomas Kean, Myanmar affairs analyst consultant for the International Crisis Group think tank, told The Associated Press.

‘We saw in the first days after the coup they tried to take a kind of business as usual approach’, with generals denying they were implementing any significant changes but only removing Suu Kyi power, he said.

“And of course, you know, that sparked these huge protests that were brutally suppressed, leading people to turn to armed struggle.”

The army has dealt with the revolt using the same brutal tactics in the rural center of the country that it has long unleashed against ethnic minorities in border areas, which critics have accused of crimes against humanity and genocide. .

Its violence has generated new empathy for ethnic minorities such as the Karen, Kachin and Rohingya, long-time targets of army abuse with whom members of the Burmese majority are now making common cause against the army.

People opposed the military takeover because they had come to enjoy representative government and liberalization after years of military rule, said David Steinberg, senior fellow in Asian studies at Georgetown University.

Young people gathered en masse to protest despite the risks, he said, because they had no families or careers to lose, but saw their future in jeopardy.

They also enjoyed tactical advantages that previous generations of protesters lacked, he noted. Myanmar has caught up with the rest of the world in technology, and people have been able to stage strikes and protests using cellphones and the internet, despite efforts to limit communications.

A driving force has been the civil disobedience movement, founded by healthcare workers, which has encouraged actions such as the boycott of military products and people who don’t pay their electricity bills or buy tickets. of lottery.

Held in military custody, Suu Kyi played no active role in these developments.

The ruling generals, who have said they are likely to hold new elections by 2023, have linked her to a variety of criminal charges widely seen as fabricated to prevent her from returning to political life. Suu Kyi, 76, has already been sentenced to six years in prison, with the prospect of many more to come.

But in the days after the army seized power, his party’s elected MPs laid the groundwork for sustained resistance. Blocked by the military from taking their seats, they came together on their own and in April established the National Unity Government, or NUG, which claims status as the country’s legitimate administrative body and has won the loyalty of many citizens.

The NUG also sought to coordinate armed resistance, helping to organize the “People’s Defense Forces,” or PDF, local militias formed at local and neighborhood levels. The military calls the NUG and the PDF “terrorist” organizations.

With urban protests mostly reduced to flash mobs to avoid repression, the battle against military rule has largely shifted to the countryside, where poorly armed local militias wage guerrilla warfare.

The army’s “four cuts” strategy aims to eradicate the threat of militias by cutting off their access to food, funds, information and recruitment. Civilians suffer collateral damage as soldiers block essential supplies, carry off suspected militia supporters and raze entire villages.

When the military enters a village, “they burn down some houses, maybe shoot people, take prisoners and torture them – the kind of horrific abuse we see on a regular basis,” analyst Kean said.

“But when the soldiers leave, they lose control of this area. They do not have enough manpower to keep control when 80 to 90% of the population is against them.

Some ethnic minority groups with decades of experience fighting the Burmese military provide critical support to the PDF militia movement, including providing training and some weapons, while providing safe havens for opposition activists and to other people fleeing the army.

“We never accept a coup for any reason. Our organization’s position is clear,” Padoh Saw Taw Nee, head of the Karen National Union’s foreign affairs department, told the AP. “We oppose any military dictatorship. Therefore, the automatic response is that we must work with those who oppose the military.

He said his group began preparing immediately after the takeover to welcome people fleeing military persecution and noted that it played a similar role in 1988 after a failed popular uprising.

There is a quid pro quo — the NUG says it will honor the demands of ethnic minority groups for greater autonomy when it takes power.

The army, meanwhile, keeps the pressure on the Karen with periodic attacks, including from the air, that send villagers fleeing to safety across a river that forms the border with Thailand.

The support of ethnic groups is considered essential to sustain the resistance, the idea being that as long as they can engage the army, its forces will be overstretched to finish off the PDF.

No other factor is considered capable of tipping the scales in favor of the army or the resistance.

Sanctions against ruling generals may make them uncomfortable — US actions, in particular, have caused financial hardship — but Russia and China have been reliable allies, particularly willing to sell arms. The UN and organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are seen as toothless at best.

“I kind of see the setting for a protracted conflict. Neither side seems willing to back down or considers it in their interest or a necessity to back down or make concessions in any way to the other,” analyst Kean said.

“And so it’s very difficult to see how the conflict will diminish, reduce in the short term, even over a period of years. It’s just very difficult to see peace coming back to many parts of Myanmar.”

——-

Associated Press video editor Jerry Harmer contributed to this report.


Share.

About Author

Comments are closed.